No more in-person town meeting

Rockport voters to face big ticket decisions at June Town Meeting: New fire station, RES community park

Fri, 04/14/2023 - 5:30pm

    ROCKPORT — The Select Board in Rockport has agreed to ask voters in June at annual town meeting if they endorse spending $3.76 million on a new West Rockport Fire Station, as well as allowing a public-private venture to go forward to make the former Rockport Elementary School a community park and recreation center — funded by a large philanthropic donation.

    And the two projects are financially connected in one aspect: A portion of the West Street Rockport Fire Station – $1 million of the total cost – would also be funded by the same philanthropic Lesher Family Foundation, contingent on voter approval of the park.

    Both projects have been under development this past winter; the fire station taking shape architecturally, and RES, as the Lesher Family Foundation met with the Select Board behind closed doors to discuss the future of the 7.67 acre lot on West Street. The future of that town-owned property has debated since School Administrative District 28 (Camden-Rockport K-8) vacated the land and relocated its elementary school in 2007 a mile west on Route 90. 

    The Lesher Family Foundation, established in 2022 with headquarters in Rockport, has pledged to give the town money to set the RES site aside for use as a park, and to fund the creation of park designs, as well as public outreach efforts. The Foundation established a website that went live Friday, April 14.

    Landscape architect involved in the project has been Yarmouth-based Terry DeWan, and his company Viewshed.

    In return, the town is being asked to retain the title to the RES parcel and to dedicate it for use as a public park and recreation space. Currently, the town-owned lot is assessed at $222,800.

    The 2023 Rockport Town Meeting Warrant will ask voters if they want to authorize the Select Board to enter into an agreement with the Lesher Family Foundation to:

    • Accept a donation in the amount of $1 million from the Lesher Family Foundation to be used by the Town to fund a project or projects that the Town, in its sole discretion, determines should be funded by the donated funds. 

    The Select Board also proposing to use that $1 million donation to apply to the $3.76 million West Street fire station construction project. (See below for that warrant language)

    • The Town agrees to retain title to and dedicate the former Rockport Elementary School site for use as a public park and recreation area.

    • The Lesher Family Foundation will fund the design and construction of a public park and recreation area, with input from community members, expending an amount of $3 million for such design and construction.

    • The Lesher Family Foundation will oversee fundraising to fund an endowment for the future operation and maintenance costs of the public park and recreation area. The Lesher Family Foundation will cover any shortfall in donated monies to ensure that annual operating and maintenance costs are paid by the endowment and not by the Town.

    All members the Select Board and the Budget Committee have voted in favor of this agreement.

    The Lesher Family Foundation has created a website about this project, and ask residents to participate in a survey for future development of the RES parcel. Read more: Citizen input invited as plans for new Rockport Community Park on old RES parcel take shape

    In the April 10 Select Board meeting notes, Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke explained that the board began meeting with Linda Lesher and her son, Justin Lesher, about the vacant RES property.

    “As currently proposed, the Lesher Family Foundation would construct a park exceeding $3 million, and which includes a playground, open green space, walking trails, performance space, parking for visitors to the site, space for farmers’ markets, and a host of other uses,” he wrote. “This is an outstanding opportunity for Rockport and I thank the entire Lesher family for their interest in our community. Early in our conversations, it impressed me how eager the Lesher stressed the need to build something that the entire community can use and support. There are few places where our town can gather and I’ve likened this to the village greens of days gone by. While our residents are in vehicles and driving everywhere, finding places of common ground where West Rockport, Rockville, Simonton’s Corner, Rockport Village and Glen Cove can enjoy this gift equally is incredibly special.”

    West Street Fire Station

    Four bids were received by the town for the construction of the West Street Fire Station, which is to occupy the same site of the existing fire station on the corner of routes 90 and 17. The lowest bid had been submitted by Maine Coast Construction at $3.23 million. 

    Other bids included:

    D.P. Porter Contractors, Inc., $3.43 million:
    Ganneston Construction, $3.7 million
    Blaine Casey Building Contractors, $3.76 million

    There is an additional $525,655.64 in “soft costs” added to the project, including expenditures on asbestos abatement of the existing building.

    The Select Board agreed to put Maine Coast Construction on the warrant, citing the lower bid, which is in part due to the proximity of the company, whose headquarters are in Camden. See here for full fire station plans and documents.

    If voters approve spending the $3.76 million (the project cost less $1 million with the Lesher Family Foundation donation), construction is to begin in September or October.

    Currently, Rockport has $6.22 million in outstanding debt, with $4.5 million in authorized bonds yet to be spent.

    The latter is for the recently completed Route 1 sewer extension. The town used a tax anticipation note to pay for that project, but had secured a $4.5 million bond, with 1.25 percent interest rate.

    The other outstanding debt includes:

    a 2016 infrastructure bond  at $1.287 million, for paving and building improvements;

    a $300,000 Opera House bond, issued in 2016 for painting and redoing the roof;

    A $1.6 million bond for the library construction; and

    A 2020 infrastructure bond with $1.368 million left to pay. That was for paving of town-owned roads, and exhaust systems at the public works and public safety buildings.

    If Article 3, which encompasses approval of the public-private RES community park venture, passes, then the bond to be issued for the fire station would be $2.75 million.

    If it doesn’t pass, but the fire station warrant article does pass, then the town would lose the $1 million donation toward that project and would ask voters to bond $3.75 million over 30 years. With an estimated interest rate of 4.27 percent, the town would pay ultimately $6.9 million for the new fire station. If the town bonds for $275 million, the interest payments would be less.

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at; 207-706-6657